Afghanistan's Karzai Issues A Fresh Challenge To Obama
February 26, 2013 • 11:30AM

Once again, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made clear to President Obama that he will no longer accept Washington's diktat on all issues concerning Afghanistan. On Feb. 24, he demanded the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from two provinces near Kabul within two weeks. "In today's national security council meeting ... President Karzai ordered the ministry of defense to kick out the U.S. special forces from Wardak and Logar provinces within two weeks," said presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi. "The U.S. special forces and illegal armed groups created by them are causing insecurity, instability, and harass local people in these provinces," he told a press conference. The decision has let a cat among the pigeons.

Residents and officials of central Wardak province on Feb. 25 welcomed President Karzai's decision. "Harassment at the hands of foreign troops had created mental problems for the people, but Karzai had finally addressed their concerns," a tribal elder from Sheikhabad area of Syedabad district, Abdul Basir, told Pajhwok Afghan News.

Karzai's decision is yet another indication that he is ready to break with the Obama administration. Last January, Karzai was in Washington and during his meeting with the American President, he was told that he must agree to help start the U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar as Washington sees it as the only way for its exit from Afghanistan. An unnamed senior administration official told the Washington Post that Karzai "got his arm twisted" in Washington, and the sense was that he was prepared to let the office open. But as soon Karzai got back to Kabul, he reverted back to his old demand that the Qatari government must give him a memorandum of understanding in writing which says the office will be used only for peace talks and not for deal-making. A senior Afghan official put it more bluntly, saying: "The U.S. just wants us to agree to the office without the [memorandum of understanding]. But these are our conditions."

What is at play here is the refusal of Karzai to accept the London-led, and Obama-followed, plan to usher in the Taliban into Kabul to facilitate U.S. troops' withdrawal in 2014. Karzai strongly opposes official presence of the Taliban in Kabul and it is likely he is backed by a large section of Pushtuns, and by both Russia and India.